ACLU Urges Congress to Heed Cautions, Adopt Recommendations In Consensus Document on Government-Funded Religion

January 15, 2002 12:00 am

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Statement of Laura W. Murphy, Director
ACLU Washington National Office


WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union is committed to protecting religious freedom, the separation of church and state and civil rights and thus has been deeply engaged in the national discussion on the role that the government should play — if any — in assisting faith-based and community-based organizations in meeting human needs.

Because government funding of religious institutions raises vexing First Amendment and equal protection problems, we have greatly appreciated being part of the Search For Common Ground’s conversations and deliberative processes.

The document released today represents a collaborative effort by leaders from all parts of the advocacy, religious and social service perspectives. It includes several recommendations for government action that would help all community-based organizations and which Congress and the President could enact without offending constitutional principles. Some of the recommendations in the “Finding Common Ground” report could, for example, dramatically assist people in need without jeopardizing the country’s commitment to religious liberty and civil rights and without violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

However, we must stress that it was only after vigorous debate that the participants in the Search for Common Ground could come to consensus on some of the legal issues related to government funding for religiously controlled and affiliated organizations. These consensus ideas were limited and carefully worded, especially those addressing the intersection of government funds and the enforcement of civil rights laws.

In fact, the group recognized that complicated and significant legal and constitutional issues are raised by proposals like Charitable Choice and the President’s Faith Based Initiative. The ACLU urges Congress and the President to read this report carefully and not use it as a means to ignore or trample on the constitutional and civil rights protections that are a critical element of all government-funded programs.

The ACLU further urges Congress, and all involved with the Working Group on Human Needs and Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, to appreciate the spirit in which this document was created and to heed the document’s cautions while recognizing its recommendations. We see this as an important step in an ongoing national dialogue and look forward to participating in future conversations.

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